As a physiotherapy practitioner of 16 years, Grace Ho has seen it all. From musculoskeletal conditions, sports injuries, and regenerative and ergonomic issues, Grace has spent most of her career rehabilitating patients, by helping them to restore and retain their mobility, function, and well-being.

But one day, one of her patients came running into the clinic with tears in her eyes – her face was drooping and she was cringing from the pain. At a glance, Grace recognised the symptoms of Bell’s Palsy, a devastating infection of the facial nerve which had caused one side of her patient’s face to be paralysed.

While Grace did not have the prior experience of an aesthetician she had something even better – the knowledge and understanding of the human body and its structure, and the technology to curate a combination of physiotherapy treatments – such as electrophysical stimulation, ultrasound therapy and TECAR Winback therapy – to promote blood circulation in the body, relieve muscular pain, and accelerate her healing process. And in six sessions, her patient soon saw a visible change in her appearance, with the tautness in her skin returning back to its pre-Bell’s Palsy state.

Inspired by the success she had achieved with her patient, together with her business partner Josh, Grace decided to combine her 16 years of experience in physiotherapy with skincare to launch SkinPhysio, an aesthetic-physio clinic that combines the best of both worlds.

Grace Ho, co-founder of Skin Physio

Ahead, we speak to Grace and Joshua about what it’s like to make a mid-career pivot into the world of aesthetics, the rewards of the job, and why their treatments are a great option for people who are interested in venturing into effective, and pain-free, non-invasive treatments.

What was your motivation behind starting SkinPhysio?

Joshua (J): In the aesthetics market, there will always be people who choose the invasive route – such as going for surgery, injections and lasers etc. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those that just sign up for facials. But there are limits to facials because topical applications can only do so much, and you won’t be able to go beyond the first five layers of skin cells. For a skin treatment to do its job, you need to get past the stratum corneum which prevents particles from invading the skin

There are a lot of people sitting in the middle who do want to look better, but don’t want to go through the pain, or are unsure if they can withstand the downtime or pain management that comes along with it. We wanted to reach out to the people who are quiet about their desire to look better, the ones who are wishing that there was something suitable for them – including men. 

Grace (G): What we have here is scientifically proven and the treatment is able to reach the muscle tissue. We can target a full spectrum of muscles through the dermis and epidermis and target specific muscles. We have the science and the understanding of how to administer the technology, so the final thing we needed to do was to package it together.

The machines and technology are things that we were already using for physiotherapy, and then we realised, why don’t we try using this for other parts of the body including the face?

The SkinPhix program has been known to help clients with Bell’s Palsy and postpartum mothers. What is it about the treatment that is so effective? 

G: SkinPhix is a combination of various technologies such as electrophysical stimulation, ultrasound therapy and TECAR Winback therapy, it will be customised accordingly to what a patient requires. 

The standard protocol for Bell’s Palsy treatment is to teach them some facial exercises and to use a nerve stimulator to stimulate the nerves to try and get the muscles going. It takes many weeks to see the results. I thought to myself, we have this technology which boosts circulation, so why don’t I try boosting circulation through the nerves?

I can administer Capacitative Energy Transfer (CET) which targets soft tissue like muscles and can reduce the spasms in the face, and Resitive Energy Transfer (RET) that targets the nerves which help to boost cellular regeneration and metabolism. When combined, I was amazed by the results.

It’s also not so much about what the treatments are, but who is administering the treatments. All the treatments are administered by professionally trained physiotherapists. The treatments are also non-invasive but still allow you to reach deep into the muscles without causing any pain. 

As the creator of Singapore’s first-ever aesthetic-physio clinic, what sets you apart from other aesthetic clinics?

G: As a medical practitioner, I’m familiar with the anatomy of the body and the nervous system, so I know how to safely use these machines and where to apply them. I’ll also be able to explain to a client the physiology behind the body and how it works on a cellular level. 

We also incorporate an exercise component for those looking to treat the body. We had a client who had gone for liposuction and that had left her with excess saggy skin. After her first trial, she had an immediate shrinkage of 6mm on one side and 3.5mm on the other. We also taught her some exercises to strengthen, tone up and develop her pectoral muscles because working on both the muscular-skeletal system and the skin will contribute to skin tightening. 

Another client was very bothered by her “mum pooch”. Apart from using TECAR to reduce the fat and skin laxity, I explained to her that her muscles are really not trained at the abdominal level, so I taught her some core strengthening exercises that won’t require a lot of exertive effort. A lot of mums don’t have the time to exercise or are doing the wrong type of exercises so they don’t see the results that they are hoping for. So we teach these to our patients to teach them how to pull in their abdominal core. 

It’s a more holistic approach to aesthetics as we don’t just look at the outer part of the body, but the overall health of the body. It’s about tightening the muscles from within and not just treating sagging skin. We can also treat pain as a secondary issue.

You made a mid-career pivot from being a physiotherapist, to an aesthetician. What are some of the challenges, as well as rewards from either job?

G: As someone who came from a traditional physiotherapy background, the first challenge was overcoming my own inertia of getting into aesthetics – Joshua was trying very hard to convince me that there was a market for this! 

The other challenge was sharing with clients that a physiotherapist was going to do aesthetics. It’s very new here, but not in the western part of the world, so this was a barrier we had to sort of break and create awareness.

In terms of rewards, seeing a patient satisfied and experiencing a positive change in the body – both on an aesthetic and functional level. I’ve witnessed clients overcoming back pain, being able to do their chores, exercise and regaining a bit of that youthfulness again

I had a client who has a condition called cervical spondylosis and what it does is create the fusion of the spine over time, which causes the depression of the abdomen and the body to hunch. This can create a stomach pouch. He had a huge event that he had to attend and he wanted to look better, so he came and we worked on the belly to reduce the fat and tighten the skin. While the results won’t be perfect due to his condition, he still saw visible results which made him very happy. That was a very rewarding experience for me as not only did he see improvement in how he looked, his body felt better too.

How much does one session cost, and how many does one require?

G: One session is about $298 for 30 mins, and you can see a difference in the first session, but a client would require four to six sessions for a lasting effect. According to research evidence, four to six sessions will last you about four to six months. This is pretty good,  considering that at the skin level, collagen actually gets destroyed in two months.

Is it safe to combine this with other treatments?

G: Yes, we’ve had patients who have had fillers, but still require some skin tightening. Some clients who lack skin tone come to us because they can visibly see their filler sagging. So they come in to lift their skin with electrotherapy. 

What areas of the body can be worked on?

G: Basically, every area of the body can be treated as long as there’s no active cancer or any infection on the skin. It’s friendly for implants like metal implants or if they have metal screws for knee replacement or shoulder joint surgery. It’s only not applicable if you have a heart pacemaker.

Who should try this treatment?

G: If you’re coming in for anti-ageing, anyone who has signs of wrinkling or sun damage. If you are preparing for an event, there are some immediate signs of plumping as well so it’s good for those who want to look refreshed.

TECAR also has this diathermy that revascularizes our skin. So it promotes blood circulation to the muscular connective tissues of scars and can help ladies with the healing of scars after major surgeries such as a mastectomy or a c-section. This will help to prevent keloid scars as it remodels the collagen cells.

What are some of the treatments your clinic offers, and what have been some of the most popular ones amongst your clients?

J: A lot of people come in for tummy reduction, especially postpartum mothers whose bodies have changed a lot. 

G: The top three issues people come in to treat are face laxity, tummy laxity and tummy fat

For someone who is new to the world of aesthetic treatments and would like to avoid anything invasive, what treatments would you recommend?

G: All our treatments are generally painless and in order to mitigate a client’s fear, we’ll start on a very low intensity and then slowly build up the intensity and keep checking in with our patients for any levels of discomfort. Building that comfort level and confidence helps relieve a patient of any worries. Some find the treatments very soothing!

Anything else you want people to know about the clinic?

G: If you’re looking for a holistic way to look good, keep an open mind and give physio-aesthetics a chance.

J: I think one of the messages we hope to get out there is that firstly, a physio clinic isn’t what you typically think of where someone is sitting on a ball or stretching a rubber band. Here we don’t have exercise machines; rather we use advance medical grade technology. Secondly, skin and muscle should not be compartmentalised. How do you separate that right? It’s all interconnected. When it comes to skin ageing, you have to address the issue not just at the skin level, but deep into the muscle. This is why we have this tagline that says “We are more than skin deep”. Thirdly our treatments are so comfortable and there is no downtime needed.

Text: Cheryl Chan/Her World